A Day at the Beach: Passive Solar and Wind Power at Work

By , February 10, 2010

Monday, a starry morning gave way to sunshine. The wind blew a steady 25 knots from the south. It was a classic alternative energy day, one that went beyond the power coming in from the wind generator and solar array.

I spent about an hour hauling armloads of firewood from the wood shed to the beach, where I stacked it in loosely on the rocks to dry further in the wind and sun.

Part of the firewood pile catching some rays on the beach. Kindling and water heater wood sits on the veranda.

Most of it’s pretty dry, but as I fell new trees, I accumulate a fair amount of damp wood. And, if snow flocks the pile, everything gets wetter than it should. It would still burn, but we wouldn’t get the all important secondary burn of gasses in the wood chamber, and it would create creosote. A little day at the beach will help “cure” that.

The sun doesn’t stay on the beach long at this time of year, but I’ve learned that airflow dries wood faster than sunshine. Having both is a bonus while it lasts, but the rain and snow held off, so I dried the wood through the night. Any moisture the wood loses increases its heating value when it’s burned, so the time and effort of taking it out, stacking it, and eventually hauling it back to the woodshed to be stacked again is well worth it.

It’s easy to lose sight of the full potential of our energy sources. As Americans, we’re so set on The Solution, the silver bullet that will solve all problems that we forget the myriad additional benefits to be found, many of them subtle or incremental. The wind and sun that powers our homestead also seasons our firewood, dries our laundry, and warms our greenhouse, powers our sailboats, warms and cools the cabin, removes our snow and ice. I can’t estimate the power production and savings represented in these processes. I’m pretty sure that it matches, or even exceeds our power generation.

I’d call that added value!

4 Responses to “A Day at the Beach: Passive Solar and Wind Power at Work”

  1. Charles says:

    I live in Eastern Kentucky and have access to many hardwoods etc., and I try to use a one man crosscut to harvest it as much as possible. But, for the big stuff and when the stack begins to dwindle, I have to go to the chainsaw as I heat and cook with wood. My question is what are you using to cut these large quantities of wood?

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Charles, my preferred weapon is one of my two cross cut “Swede” saws. They’re 2-person saws, but I’ve managed to use them solo fairly well. Unfortunately, they need to be sharpened, which I’m supposed to be doing right now. I have all the instructions, the tools, everything but the gumption to lay file to metal.

    Until that happens, I rely on bow saws. I use a small one and a large one. They work extremely well, although I have to make wedge cuts through larger logs.

    When the Swedes work, I always take along at least one bow saw to cut out binds, limbing, etc.

  3. Jim Luckhurst says:

    What is your source of wood/fuel..Do you fell trees on your property as well as gathering beach wood that washes up on shore? I remember lots of huge trees and logs coming ashore there.. How much wood would you say use in a winter….? A never ending job!

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Jim,

    I write about our fuel gathering a lot, but the most comprehensive summary might be the Treeage post. We try to avoid using drift logs because the salt is bad for our cast iron stove, although we make some judicious exceptions. As I hiked up into the woods to buck up a new deadfall today, I thought about how many trees it takes to see us through a winter. I figured it out once, and have since forgotten, but I’d estimate it takes 20 small trees (about 6″ diameter, 50 feet tall) or thereabouts. If I’m good about getting it done, it does end–preferably February through the end of May. This year, however, I’ve been employed, so I’m still working on the top half of the woodshed pile before winter. I do it all with hand saws and ax, so it takes considerably longer than it would if I used a chain saw.

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